SRINAGAR: The BJP’s first test in Kashmir will begin in the second phase of polling on Tuesday, when the fate of its ‘ally’ separatist-turned-mainstream leader Sajjad Gani Lone and his candidates contesting from their stronghold in the border district of Kupwara will be sealed. The BJP has entered into an understanding with the former separatist leader, who decided to make electoral debut in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. He is contesting his first Assembly elections in the state after unsuccessfully contesting the Parliamentary elections in 2009 from the Kupwara-Baramulla seat in North Kashmir. Sajjad’s party, the Peoples Conference (PC), has a strong following in all five seats in the border district of Kupwara, besides some pockets in North Kashmir. He is contesting from the Handwara seat, thrice represented in the J&K Assembly by his father the late Abdul Gani Lone. The elder Lone had joined the separatist camp in 1989 after the eruption of militancy and was killed by militants on May 21, 2002.
He (Sajjad) has also fielded candidates from Karnah, Kupwara, Lolab and Langate seats in Kupwara.
All five seats in Kupwara, along with 13 other constituencies in the state, will go to polls on Tuesday.
It is the first time that Sajjad has openly fielded candidates. Earlier, he had fielded proxy candidates in the 2002 and 2008 polls from some seats in Kupwara. One such candidate, Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Sofi, won the Assembly elections from the Handwara seat in the 2002 polls as an independent. Another candidate, Engineer Abdur Rashid, had won the 2008 Assembly polls from Langate seat in Kupwara.
Sofi is contesting the election on a PDP ticket from Handwara seat, while Rashid has floated his own party and contesting from the Langate segment. In view of the strong following for Sajjad’s party in all five seats, the BJP has decided to forge a “pact” with him because the party is banking on smaller parties in the Valley, where the ruling National Conference and the Opposition PDP have ruled out any joining hand with the saffron party.
The BJP is banking on Sajjad’s good show in the polls, as it will add to a couple of seats in the saffron party’s kitty in the Valley. The BJP has not fielded any candidate against Sajjad, but has put up candidates in other four seats of the Kupwara district.
“The BJP’s fielding candidates in four seats in Kupwara district is a tactical move to help Sajjad’s party. The BJP has fielded candidates to ensure division of votes in these constituencies,” a state BJP leader said. He said the PC has got its vote bank, which will stay with the party. “We are targeting to divide the NC and PDP vote bank to help Sajjad’s candidates. We are hopeful that our strategy will work on some seats, if not on all”.
Sajjad, who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi, described him as his “elder brother”. In his election campaigns, he has been hitting out at the NC, PDP and Congress, but has shown a soft corner for Modi. He credits Modi for the recent Army action in two cases against its men in Kashmir for civilian killings in the Valley. Although the BJP has fielded candidates in most of the seats in the Valley, according to political observers, there are no realistic chances of the saffron party winning seats in Kashmir. “However, the BJP can sprung surprises in few seats, where migrant Kashmiri Pandits have a large chunk of vote,” they feel.